The Czech economy is slowly recovering from a long period of economic downturn but in some parts of the Czech Republic the recession is far from over. One of the worst hit areas is the north-eastern Ostrava region where more than 100,000 people are unemployed. Ostrava is now bracing for worse as some of the major employers such as coal mines and steel works are facing serious difficulties.
Trade unions have welcomed their leader Jaroslav Zavadil’s decision to run on the Social Democratic Party’s ticket in the upcoming general election. Zavadil resigned as trade union leader after accepting the Social Democrats offer for him to head the party’s Prague candidates’ list. The umbrella trade union organization Zavadil headed says he will be better able to represent their interests in high politics. Mr. Zavadil has refused to speculate on his chances in the Czech capital, which is generally known to be right-oriented. He said he would focus his campaign on seniors, families with children and the socially weaker groups of the population.
The S-Card project for electronic social benefits payments, which has so far cost the Czech state 82.54 million crowns, will cost more than five million crowns to close down, Labor Minister František Koníček said at a press conference on Tuesday. The S-Card system will be terminated gradually until through the end of next March. The more than 270,000 current holders of the S-Card will be offered to receive social benefits payments either through the post office or by transfer to their bank accounts. The project was spearheaded by the former labor minister Jaromír Drábek, who was hoping to save the ministry money on distribution of benefits, though the plan was highly criticized by politicians and the public. Last week, the lower house approved a bill that terminates the project.
The cost of outsourcing services in some Czech ministries has increased by up to 90 percent in the past two years, the Supreme Audit Office reports. An audit into the finances of the trade, environment and regional development ministries has revealed a significant increase in the use of outsourcing in all three institutions. The Audit Office says that in many cases ministries paid agencies millions of crowns to do work that should rightly have been done by ministry employees. This includes drafting bills and preparing tenders for which the ministries have teams of specialists in respective departments.
President Miloš Zeman named Pavel Rychetský, Ludvík David and Kateřina Šimáčková to the Constitutional Court in a ceremony at Prague Castle on Wednesday. Justice Rychetský, who was first appointed to the Czech Republic’s highest court in 2003, will continue to serve as its chairman. The other two justices will sit on the court for the first time. With Wednesday’s appointments, the 15-member court is now complete.
The hotly-anticipated trial of MP and former governor of Central Bohemia David Rath has begun at Prague’s Regional Court. Mr. Rath, who has been in custody for more than a year, faces charges of bribe-taking and manipulating public tenders. Outside the court, the one-time prominent Social Democrat handed out copies of a written statement saying he was innocent and would fight to the last. Mr. Rath and 10 other defendants, one of whom is a former MP, could face up to 12 years in jail if found guilty of the alleged corruption.
The Czech minister of culture, Jiří Balvín, on Friday reinstated the director of the National Theatre, Jan Burian, a day after he dismissed him. Mr Balvín was ordered to do so by Prime Minister Jiří Rusnok. The culture minister fired Mr. Burian, who was appointed by a previous minister, on the same day he took over at the National Theatre, a move that met with strong condemnation across the political spectrum; it also led a number of leading actors and its entire management team to quit the institution. Mr Balvín said he did not consider the matter a reason for him to step down.
Czechs work an average 40.9 hours a week, which is the second longest hours in the EU after Greece, according to figures by the Czech Statistical Office released on Friday. The EU average is 37.3 hours a week. Analysts say Czechs work relatively long hours because of a lack of part-time jobs which account for around 5 percent of all work contracts, compared to the EU average of over 19 percent.
The interim government on Wednesday rejected draft legislation which would have allowed clients to withdraw from the recently-established “second pillar” of pension reforms (that is savings in private pension funds) at a later date if they so wished. The prime minister made clear for the government that such changes were anti-systemic. The draft amendment was proposed by former finance minister Miroslav Kalousek, who spearheaded the second pillar under the previous government. A final decision on the matter will be up to the Chamber of Deputies. Far fewer clients signed up for the second pillar before a key deadline earlier this year than previously expected; it is thought that the raising of restrictions could make the package more attractive to potential clients.
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